Have you ever done “me” measurements because you didn’t have a ruler?
Science class experimented with this in class, finding out that not everyone’s measurements turned out the same.
First, a piece of wood was measured by using their feet. There was quite a difference in the measurements because of the difference sizes of their feet. It was fun to see who had “small” feet and who had “large” feet!
Then, we used our hands! Horses are still measured in hands, but most things are not measured with hands anymore. But, it was fun to see how much it varied between students. What did we do before rulers??
Back in the day, systems were based on the use of parts of the body and the natural surroundings as measuring instruments. Ancient Indian measurements related to the body are correlated to the finger measure of 1⅜ inch. This measured length is found throughout the human body in increments. It is the measure used to build ancient temples and is precisely related to the Indus Valley measuring devices. Early Babylonian and Egyptian records and the Bible indicate that length was first measured with the forearm, hand, or finger and that time was measured by the periods of the sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies. When it was necessary to compare the capacities of containers such as gourds or clay or metal vessels, they were filled with plant seeds which were then counted to measure the volumes. When means for weighing were invented, seeds and stones served as standards. For instance, the carat, still used as a unit for gems, was derived from the carob seed. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_measurement)
Our foot-rule started out as the length of a man’s foot. So, in the early days of history, the foot varied in length, sometimes as much as 3 or 4 inches. Once the ancients started using arms and feet for measuring distance, it was only natural that they also thought of using fingers, hands and legs. They also may have discovered that some surprising ratios existed in body measurements.
What is now called an inch originally was the width of a man’s thumb!
It also was the length of the forefinger from the tip to the first joint. Twelve times that distance made a foot. Three times the length of the foot was the distance from the tip of a man’s nose to the end of his outstretched arm. This distance very closely approximates what is called the yard. Two yards equaled a fathom which, thousands of years ago, was the distance across a man’s outstretched arms. Half a yard was the 18-inch cubit, and half a cubit was called a span, which was the distance across the hand from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger when the fingers were spread out as far as possible. A hand was half a span. (http://www.cftech.com/BrainBank/OTHERREFERENCE/WEIGHTSandMEASURES/MetricHistory.html)
It is so interesting to think about how measurements evolved and how body part ratios were discovered! So neat!
We used paperclips to measure the length of the same board we measured using our hands and feet since we knew they would be the same length. Very interesting. And fun!